The NFL playoffs are just heating up with the divisional round next on the docket, but for every team in the league except the remaining eight, attention has shifted to the next NFL draft.
For as much publicity that the top selections receive every year, the cornerstones of successful franchises are often built from the second round and beyond. In fact, the NFL’s second-leading passer (Drew Brees), leading rusher (LeSean McCoy) and leading receiver (Josh Gordon) this season were all taken outside of the first round.
So who will be some under-the-radar names that become stars in this draft? Let’s look at a few.
College football fans across the country may have ignored Penn State for much of the last two seasons given the bowl ban in place, but wide receiver Allen Robinson will grab some attention at the next level for whichever team drafts him.
Robinson tallied 1,432 receiving yards and six touchdown catches this year and turned some heads with 173 yards and a touchdown against Ohio State, 173 yards and two touchdowns against Indiana and 143 yards and a touchdown against eventual Fiesta Bowl-champion Central Florida.
He brings a combination of size (6’3”) and speed that NFL teams covet and is capable of making plays in space off screen passes. Furthermore, his experience in Bill O’Brien’s offense, which was heavily influenced by O’Brien’s time in the NFL, will help Robinson grasp a professional offense quickly.
The Pac-12 was filled with explosive offenses this season, but Trevor Reilly did his best to bring some defense to the table at Utah.
The defensive end posted double-digit tackles against Colorado, USC, Arizona and UCLA, and had multiple-sack games against the Wildcats and Trojans. He also constantly put pressure on Marcus Mariota when Utah played Oregon much closer than anticipated.
The pass rush has become vital at the NFL level given how difficult it is for corners and safeties to stop receivers today with the rules in place, and Reilly has elite athleticism to match his imposing size. Look for him to make a home in NFL backfields next season.
For as excellent as Ka’Deem Carey was at Arizona, he was far from the most publicized running back even in his own conference. De’Anthony Thomas and Tyler Gaffney garnered more headlines, but Carey totaled 1,885 rushing yards, 173 receiving yards and 20 total touchdowns this season.
Carey has excellent speed, but he also has the ability to hit the hole and run between the tackles that is necessary to be a workhorse running back at the next level.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports notes how much Carey has improved in areas that translate to the next level since last season:
A year ago, Carey often relied on his lateral agility and burst to make defenders miss. He still possesses the juice to make defenders look silly but is clearly stronger in 2013, which helped him barrel through multiple would-be tacklers for short yardage scores.
Carey has yet to officially declare for the draft, but indications are that he is leaning toward taking his talents to the NFL.
Follow and interact with Bleacher Report writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.